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I was going through some old papers a few nights ago and came across a little poem I wrote 21 years ago to amuse my classmates. Unlike most of my writing from that period, this piece doesn’t make me cringe when I read it. It makes me smile.

When I was studying in London for a semester in 1993, we had a profoundly boring class about social change during England’s Industrial Revolution. The professor, like us, was abroad for four months and probably not all that excited about teaching a class. Three afternoons a week, he trudged into our tiny classroom at the Royal School of Economics, wearing a rumpled tweed jacket and a hang-dog expression. He would put his hands over his face and gently massage it as fighting off the lingering effects of a day-long hangover. Then he would stare out the window at the grey London sky. Then he would fiddle with his cufflinks. Then, if it was a good day, he would utter a few words before his hands returned to his face, massaging out whatever demons lurked inside.
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I don’t know if this professor was going through some personal problems or if this was his regular teaching style. I do know that I got a couple of funny poems out of it. Writing clever little stuff doesn’t get you good grades, and it doesn’t get you girls. But you can sometimes get girls to laugh at your funny writing, which is at least something. I’m sure that was my motivation when I wrote this:

Comparative Institutions

Trembling hands rub his furrowed brow
as he contemplates the Then and Now.
Through his hollowed eyes the visions explode
of Victorian England and the steam railroad.
And the Ragged Boys’ School,
and legislation for the poor,
and don’t forget the Corn Law of 1834!
As the ideas form in his tired, grey brain,
he massages his temples and he tries to explain…
“You see folks,” he begins,
and he pauses for effect.
The students clutch their pens,
not sure what to expect.
“It’s like this, folks,” he stammers,
then a smile comes to his face.
“The world is not some Pollyanna,
goody-two-shoes type of place!”
Then he stands there for a moment
with a miserable kind of smirk.
And the students start to wonder
why they signed up for this jerk?

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